Supplier Spotlight: Bringing the Ship to Life with Canal Marine

July 7, 2024

Gone are the days when ships relied solely on traditional mechanical systems.

Nowadays, advanced electrical systems play a critical role in powering vessels and optimizing performance, efficiency, reliability and safety.

And that’s why companies like Canal Marine & Industrial, Inc. have played such a key role in the design and construction of the vessels Seaspan is building at its Vancouver Shipyards under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). Canal has contributed its electrical and automation engineering expertise to every program Seaspan has managed under the NSS – integrating all the electrical systems and components in all the different vessels.

In fact, you could say, they help bring the ship to life.

“The vessel doesn’t work until we integrate it all together,” says Shawn Balding, the General Manager of Canal Marine & Industrial.

For the past 50 years, Canal has provided electrical design, engineering and service to the merchant marine, naval and coast guard fleets in Canada. Headquartered in St. Catharines, Ontario, with a strategically located office in North Vancouver, British Columbia, they are a leading provider of marine electrical engineering services and solutions.

“The National Shipbuilding Strategy has been a great program for developing the talent within our business and attracting new talent,” says Balding. “Marine is a unique market and we’ve been growing an organization that is second-to-none in Canada when it comes to marine electrical engineering. Seaspan has been a big part in helping us achieve that status. We’re creating a workspace for new graduates in the industry and employing Canadians with overseas shipbuilding experience and bringing that knowledge into Canada to increase the expertise here at home.”

What initially started as two guys and a van, has turned into a long-term and trusted partnership between Canal and Vancouver Shipyards. Canal came onboard in 2017 to work on the first vessels Seaspan built under the NSS – the Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV), the first of which was delivered to the Canadian Coast Guard in 2019. They have since worked on each of the ships under construction and currently have 40+ people supporting Seaspan in their shipbuilding activities. Canal is currently providing electrical engineering for all of Seaspan’s current programs under the NSS: the Joint Support Ships, the Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel, the Polar Icebreaker, and the Multi-Purpose Vessel Program.

“While Canadian shipbuilding hasn’t been strong in recent decades, the Canadian contribution to the global marine industry has been always been there. Many marine people had been working abroad and had enough with living out of a suitcase. The Seaspan projects have provided long-term, stable work here at home,” says Alan Schellenberger, Program Director at Canal.

He says the team’s overseas experience is a strength when it comes to integration, commissioning and sea trials. This allowed the team to bring important insights to Seaspan to help them better understand how the decisions they’re making today will impact what happens tomorrow, in terms of providing a safe, reliable working environment for the vessel crews.

Canal has not stood still in other areas of their business. The company completed Canada’s first zero-emission ferry retrofit and North America’s first automatic shore charging station for an electric vessel with its electrification of the Marilyn Bell in Toronto.

“These are industry firsts that we now have the confidence and the horsepower to take on and execute,” says Balding.

He says, ultimately, Seaspan also benefits from those projects because they are bringing knowledge and experience with emerging technologies back into the NSS.

For example, Canal produced several studies for Seaspan comparing different power propulsion systems and analyzing the risk and benefits of each. As a result, Seaspan will be utilizing a power distribution system for the Multi-Purpose Vessel program that is expected to generate significant fuel savings over the life cycle of the vessels.

Canal is proud of the innovations they’ve implemented, which improve efficiencies, accelerate delivery timelines and build better ships.

With a proven track record behind them, Canal now has its sights set on expanding to international markets and exporting its Canadian expertise and solutions to U.S. shipyards, all the while continuing to help Seaspan make history in the Canadian shipbuilding industry.